Sports fantasy camps, where fans make the leap from easy chairs to practice and compete with former baseball and football stars, have been available as special vacation experiences for decades.
They give fans the opportunity to live moments of challenge and glory normally only experienced vicariously through TV. And, perhaps just as important, the fantasy camper gets to rub shoulders with and maybe even learn a little about the game from former players.
Not surprisingly, a similar opportunity to learn from and play with the pros has become one of the latest spin-offs of the poker craze.
The exploding popularity of poker, in particular Texas Hold ‘Em, has been the pop-culture phenomenon of the last year, with a fistful of TV poker shows, the proliferation of Internet poker sites, and the expansion of poker rooms in brick-and-mortar casinos.
Playing in a poker tournament is now on the must-do list of casino visitors who, a year ago, couldn’t explain how the game was played.
Enter the poker fantasy camp.
No, make that the poker reality camp – because, in the words of poker professional Howard Lederer, “you get to compete with the guys who are doing it right now.”
Lederer, a poker champion and frequent player on the seemingly endless parade of televised poker tournaments, will hold his second poker camp March 31-April 3 in Las Vegas and expects to attract 400 to 600 participants.
Along with Lederer – a serious, contemplative competitor known as the Professor – poker stars instructing and playing at the camp will include his sister Annie Duke (the winner of $2 million in a TV showdown with several other pros), Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (known for his trademark beard, cowboy hat and dark glasses), Phil Gordon (co-host of a TV celebrity poker show) and Erik Seidel.
Lederer says at least a half-dozen other pros, many of them familiar from television, will also be on hand. As campers play against the pros, the stars will offer tips and advice.
The four-day camp will cost $3,495, and include accommodations at a luxury Strip hotel, some meals, a Penn & Teller show, seminars, question-and-answer sessions, tournaments with tens of thousands of dollars in prize money at stake, and a banquet.
“In this case, you are actually playing against these (pros),” Lederer said. “You can beat them, you can come away winning a lot of money, and get the skills you can use in future tournaments.”
One tournament that is included in the camp tuition will offer $50,000 in prize money; another earns the winner a seat in the World Series of Poker No-limit Texas Hold ‘Em finale (normally, a $10,000 buy-in) being held next summer.
Tournament play will be at Binion’s Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in downtown Vegas, the traditional setting of the World Series of Poker.
Lederer, a low-key man who appears entirely caught off-guard by the rock-star status currently afforded him and fellow card pros, held a camp in September that drew 160 people.
“Frankly, I was skeptical that people were going to feel that they got their money’s worth,” Lederer said. “I put everything I had into it, but you never know – and the feedback was just very good.”
In addition to Lederer’s camp, other poker groups are luring fans with opportunities to learn and play, including the World Poker Tour, a series of televised tournaments on the Travel Channel.
The WPT offers two-day boot camps at casinos across the country led by poker experts such as Mike Sexton, a commentator on the WPT television show. The boot camps are limited to 50 participants, cost $1,495 and include instruction, course materials, tournament play, some meals and a raffle for a seat in a qualifying event for a WPT tournament.
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